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  Field Notes From
Lost Missouri

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Cathy Riggs Salter
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Cathy Riggs Salter

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photograph by Kit Salter

Cathy Riggs Salter On Assignment On Assignment
Lost Missouri

Field Notes From Author
Cathy Riggs Salter
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It was exciting to join modern-day explorers along the Corps of Discovery’s route across Missouri. Even though they have access to the latest technology, geographer Jim Harlan—who created the new map—and historian Jim Denny still get out in the field with the Lewis and Clark’s journals to research sites the explorers noted and mapped 200 years ago. The magic came when Jim’s historic maps led us to those exact sites. I felt I was living the experience along with the early explorers. I could almost feel them standing right there with us.

We were returning from a place called Roche Perce (Pierced Rock), a split-rock landform that had been noted in their documentation 200 years ago. As we climbed down the bluff, Jim Harlan accidentally swatted a hornet. It buzzed angrily through the air and bit me on the hand. Within two hours my hand had swelled up, and I ended up in the emergency room to have it checked out. I couldn’t help but think about Lewis and Clark. They were out in the wilderness for two years. What would they have done if an insect had bitten one of them and caused a serious reaction? Put mud or salt on it? It occurred to me that the luxury of being able to tend to it immediately was not something they had. It made me respect the things they carried in their medicine bag, such as the various herbal remedies that Meriwether Lewis learned about from his mother. The sting was a minor thing, but it helped me understand what the expedition lived through.

Organizing the tools for field interviews was tricky. It was hard to scramble up a wooded slope with a notebook in one hand, a tape recorder in my pocket, and my interview sources up ahead. Then, once I got back after a day in the field, I had to sit down with my notes and tapes and review everything, only to discover that I still had questions I wanted to ask. One of the trickiest things about exploration—beyond the physical journey itself—must be getting notes down accurately and coherently. Then, at the end of the day—or two years in Lewis and Clark’s case—shaping all that information into a story that makes sense.

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